Regulation

A Raw Deal

Farms selling milk straight from the cow vex food regulators, but the demand isn't diminishing.

|

The word "raw" sounds like something exciting and maybe a little dangerous. It makes you think of bloody steaks and wrestlers and untanned hides. "Milk," on the other hand, evokes just the opposite: motherhood, kids with sippy cups, and Oscar-winning movies. Maybe it's the uncomfortable juxtaposition of the two ideas that makes certain people so nervous about raw milk. As demand increases, state legislators, regulators and courts are all reexamining the issue of raw milk. But as some jurisdictions legalize while others crack down, farmers and milk drinkers are stuck in limbo.

Raw milk is simply ordinary milk that hasn't been pasteurized. Pasteurization—the quick heating and cooling of fresh milk—kills bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. When Americans first began pasteurizing milk at the turn of the last century, testing was rudimentary and farms were far less hygienic. Milk quality varied tremendously, transit was slow and the milk that made it into cities often veered into unsafe territory. Pasteurization—which eradicated Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria—saved lives.

Today, the situation is different. Testing for the presence of such pathogens is much more precise, and farms are far cleaner. While processing milk remains a good choice for milk shipped to the population as a whole, there are a group of food rebels who would rather drink their milk straight from the cow. Some say they prefer the taste, calling it richer and more robust. Others say that pasteurization kills beneficial enzymes and helpful bacteria along with the baddies. Whatever their reasons for drinking the raw stuff, the proliferation of raw milk devotees willing to take a small risk for better dairy makes regulators unhappy, and they are looking for ways to crack down on milk speakeasies.

Read the rest at ZesterDaily, where this piece by Reason senior editor Katherine Mangu-Ward originally appeared on February 24, 2010.

Advertisement

NEXT: The Forgotten Man

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Good Morning reason!

    1. You’re perky.

      I hate perky.

      1. Aw, Mister Grant!

        Wasn’t that from a TV show?

        1. MTM naked, mmmmmm

  2. Where are the shoe ads? Good morning reason girl, thanks for the special smile 🙂

  3. This makes me wonder why the standard for selling milk and cheese to consumers is whether it is pasteurized rather than whether it is contaminated. Why does the government care what means are used so long as the desired ends are accomplished? I see this kind of regulatory overspecification and fuzzy thinking everywhere in government.

    1. That’s a good point, and one that comes up often with regulation. There are specific means legally required, rather than an end goal. A lot of regulation would be less onerous if it simply required an end result and allowed individuals to figure out how to get there.

      SLD – most regulation is not necessary…

      1. Do they restrict human milk in the same way?

        1. Milk banks screen donors and pasteurize milk. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H…..th_America

          It’s illegal to sell your milk (though for-profit milk banks can take donations and then make the money themselves, it’s just the women producing the milk can’t make any money off of it) and both donors and donations are heavily screened. Plenty of people do informal agreements instead of going through milk banks, though, since the pasteurization process kills off many of the components that make breastmilk so much healthier and better for the immune system.

          I personally don’t get the appeal of raw cow milk since given what I know about human milk it seems like getting cow antibodies makes lots of sense for baby cows but not so much for humans. I don’t really get why people can’t decide that themselves though…

        2. Milk banks screen donors and pasteurize milk. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H…..th_America

          It’s illegal to sell your milk (though for-profit milk banks can take donations and then make the money themselves, it’s just the women producing the milk can’t make any money off of it) and both donors and donations are heavily screened. Plenty of people do informal agreements instead of going through milk banks, though, since the pasteurization process kills off many of the components that make breastmilk so much healthier and better for the immune system.

          I personally don’t get the appeal of raw cow milk since given what I know about human milk it seems like getting cow antibodies makes lots of sense for baby cows but not so much for humans. I don’t really get why people can’t decide that themselves though…

          1. Leah, personally it makes more sense to me to offer infant formula from cows milk than to put your faith and infants health in the hands of some informal agreement with some random chick’s mammary glands, regardless of whether you know her or not. How is that any safer than regulated formula?

            Plus, I’ve never heard of giving an infant raw cow’s milk in this day and age. Not sure I would recommend it and I’m not even sure if parents should be allowed to make that decision on the behalf of an infant. We have better choices today. This may be an example of a it being a fine line between responsibility and neglect.

            For adults, sure, go ahead, drink whatever you want. Drink diesel fuel if you’d like.

            1. “Drink diesel fuel if you’d like.”

              Spicy as a motherfucker!

      2. There’s a process being used in NJ called “cold pasteurization” on fresh apple cider. NJ has never had regulations regarding apple cider. But a large producer had a legal challenge after a Pennsylvanian man sued them after becoming sick (I know I’ve had the runs on more than one occasion from fresh cider). It turned out the man specifically came to NJ to intentionally buy fresh, unpasteurized cider. The judge threw the case out. To avoid future lawsuits, the producer purchased a UV light, cold pasteurization system. (I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that I’ve not had the runs once since they started using the system.)

        I don’t know if the process can be used on milk, but if it can, why restrict its use if the end product/result is the same?

        1. “I’ve had the runs on more than one occasion from fresh cider” I guess we all know now the TP = toilet paper. Votre discours n’est pas un tour sur.;-)

        2. For ultraviolet light sterilization to work (a great method, generally), the liquid must be clear enough to allow the light to pass through. Water that is not muddy, yes; apple cider, apparently so; milk, probably not.

        3. You also don’t want the beverage to be sensitive to light, you might end up with skunked beer.

    2. This makes me wonder why the standard for selling milk and cheese to consumers is whether it is pasteurized rather than whether it is contaminated.

      Because its much easier to mandate a process than test every batch of milk.

      I’m not saying process-focussed regulation is good or bad, I’m just saying that its understandable.

      1. Why not let the producer make the decision? Pasteurize or test. If the producer wants to use the more expensive option, who am I to disagree? Just run spot audits to keep them honest, as I’m sure is already done with pasteurization machines.

    3. “Why does the government care what means are used so long as the desired ends are accomplished?”

      Because the company that sells the means and has the patent saw an opportunity for captive consumers, by having the government make the means mandatory. See catalytic converters.

      1. Plus, it is a barrier to entry, protecting old milk money.

    4. Why does the government care at all. Humans survived for thousands of years without an FDA or Ag Dept. and figured out all by themselves what they should and shouldn’t eat. If these people want to consume cow shit WHO CARES?

    1. because you’re french.

      1. pardonnez moi. parce que vous etes francaise.

        1. That’s mean: Not only do you insult his Gallic heritage, you also imply that he’s a woman.

          1. And the irony is that Louis Pasteur is actually one of my heroes. All in good fun.

  4. Food and Drug Administration, said raw milk drinkers are getting “pretty clever” these days.

    1) “Raw, raw, raw! That’s the spirit!”

    2) Get your E. coli from *spinach*.

    3) At least the FDA doesn’t require *breast* milk to be pasteurized — yet.

    1. Dammit, Suki!!

  5. Cows aren’t as clean as you make them sound in this article, and neither is the milk they produce in most cases. Sorry, I’m a food scientist and maybe it’s the field, but I’m of the opinion that any imagined benefits of raw milk consumption are far outweighed by the problems of pathogens. And if it were simply a case of the stomach aches sometimes, that would be one thing. But the pathogens which often contaminate milk can be deadly.

    I think it’s really a lack of information which is increasing demand for this product, it’s not nearly as safe or healthful as some people think it is.

    1. I likes me some pathogens… I grew up on fresh milk straight from the teat to the fridge… On two occasions after eating in a restaurant where my dinner mates came down with food poisoning all I got was a little rancid gas… so win win I say

      1. Um… why’d you go back after the first time? Do your friends like the runs?

        1. Different group of friends hehe I’m planning a dinner party there this weekend mmm sushi…

          actually two different places years apart

        2. yet another dave, I to have had milk straight from the cow and gaaaaag. Anything fresh and raw is most likely safe but I would prefer the guarantee of pasteurized milk.

        3. Dude, you ever had Chipotle? Its really good.

    2. Steve,

      I don’t think anyone here disputes the science, or would downplay the risks associated with milk-borne pathogens.

      At issue is an individual’s right to voluntarily accept certain risks, provided those risks don’t extend to anyone else. In that respect it’s really no different from skydiving, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

      BTW, I don’t skydive, ride a motorcycle, and would choose to drink pasteurized milk if I weren’t lactose intolerant. However, I strongly believe that individuals should be free to do all of these risky things and others.

      Natural selection only works if you let it.

      1. Russ, great idea but if you are skydiving, you will notice that you are in a plane with an open door. If you are riding a motorcycle, you will probably notice that it isn’t a car. Poured milk will have no warning signs.

        1. So true. I don’t know how many times some stranger has handed me a glass of milk, I drank it, and got sick later. This stuff is dangerous.

          1. Joe_D, well that gives new meaning to stranger danger. I happen to eat out a lot and I have never asked if the milk was raw.

            1. I think self-preservation would prevent the restaurant industry from embracing raw milk. Lawsuits…

              See how the problem just takes care of itself?

              1. Never worked in a restaurant, did you?

        2. What the hell are you talking about? What about the label on all commercially available milk that says “pasteurized”? I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that there is a danger that unpasteurized milk will infiltrate the milk supply. The point here is that if people want to seek out and buy unpasteurized, they should be able to.

          1. Zeb, when I said “I happen to eat out a lot and I have never asked if the milk was raw”, I should have added that I never eat in Mcdonald’s restaurant,Taco Bell or whatever cheap place you do that serves milk in a carton.

    3. Why do you care whether or not the milk is raw? Selling contaminated milk is presumptively illegal. Set reasonable standards for contamination (i.e. not zero) and let producers test before sale.

      1. Uhm, that’s a little bit scary. How about letting *consumers* test before sale. You know, by banding together and sharing costs.

        1. If you want to start the Underwriter’s Laboratories of Milk, that’s fine with me.

    4. I will have you know, I recently ate raw milk cheese. There was enterological warfare in my stomach for a day – had lots of gas, a couple of near-reflux events. But since then, I have been able consume any amount of dairy without gas! And, I’m asian, to boot!

    5. Let’s see. Pasteurization wasn’t invented until 1862 and didn’t become widespread for many decades afterward. So how did the human race survive the tens of thousands of years it drank raw milk if it is so dangerous? Remember, pasteurized milk rots, raw milk ferments.

      1. People lived much shorter lives, infant mortality was higher, rates of death in childbirth were higher, childhood diseases were more prevlent, a lot of people died.

        “Remember, pasteurized milk rots, raw milk ferments.”

        Fermentation is the process of turning sugars into alcohol by yeast. People even children often drank fermented beverages especially beer which is made with boiled water, it sometimes went moldy. Pasturized milk can be fermented with the addisiton of brewers yeast and it is more sucessful then rellying on wild yeast and safer too.

        1. “People lived much shorter lives, infant mortality was higher, rates of death in childbirth were higher, childhood diseases were more prevlent, a lot of people died.’

          Do you have any proof that all of that was caused by drinking raw milk? I highly doubt you do.

        2. Also fermentation isn’t just about turning sugars into alcohol.

          Fermentation: is a metabolic process whereby electrons released from nutrients are ultimately transferred to molecules obtained from the breakdown of those same nutrients.

          Fermentation(food):the conversion of carbohydrates into alcohols OR ACIDS under anaerobic conditions used for making certain foods

          For example sour cream is a fermented product but it doesn’t contain any alcohol.

          1. And in science, we often just loosey goosey use “fermentation” to mean “growing shit tons”. That’s a scientific quantity.

      2. Pasteurization was huge advance in food safety and health. It is pretty hard to deny that. The process was invented because of the need. But the need was not for people drinking milk straight from the cow. The problem was that increasing urbanization created demand for lots of milk to be transported and stored for longer. Pasteurization definitely reduced the death rate due to milk borne pathogens.
        But another great innovation has happened since then: refrigeration. Thanks to this helpful technology, it is possible to keep food around for some time that would have rapidly spoiled in 1862.

    6. I have to agree. I think this movment is even more problemeatic for meat and vegtables especially vegtables as the media and consumer fears have prevented the adoption of irradiation.

      Many people blaim the increased number of stories of food poisoning and food recalls on factory farming but the truth is that these are the result of better testing and that there are more reported cases enen though fewer people die of food poisining is a major success for science.

  6. Why don’t they just slap some labeling requirements stating it is raw milk and risky and then not let people sue. Seems pretty simpel to me.

  7. It’s for the children calves.

    1. And the squirrels.

      Later …

  8. There is a pasteurization method of holding milk at a far lower temperature for a longer period of time that preserves the flavor of milk and cheese. But it is cheaper for producers to bring it to a rapid boil under pressure and then spray it through a mister to ultrahomogenize it into a stable emulsion. This is cheaper and produces a product that pleases the vast majority of consumers.

    Milk processed with the slow method is available here in Kentucky at the co-op and Whole Foods, both from local producers. I buy it all the time, especially for cheesemaking.

    There’s a middle way between over-processed white water milk and suckling from a filthy cow teat.

    1. That was a really long way of saying “leave it on the back porch and keep the dogs and cats away from it.”

    2. And as TP mentioned above, there is also food irradiation / “cold Pasteurization”. Good for killing bad things.

      1. Radiation? You are worse than Hitler.

      2. But it also kills the good bacteria that people drink raw milk to obtain.

        1. What if the good bacteria evolves in to bad bacteria?

          1. I doubt the milk is going to be sitting around for millions of years.

        2. You can buy prebiotic in pill and yogurt form.

          1. Or you can buy raw milk and make it yourself if you are so inclined. Or you should be able to.

            1. True, just be aware of the risks.

    3. SF–is that what “vat pasteurization” is? I dont drink raw milk as it’s currently not legal to sell in GA but the local farmer’s market sells milk which is “vat pasteurized” and non homogenized. Tasty stuff.

      1. Yes, that’s it. I blanked on the term.

  9. Steve, We accept your apology.
    Ok, seriously, it is a lack of information that keeps people drinking ‘dead’ cow’s milk with nothing good left in it.
    BTW, good farmers don’t milk “filthy cow teat”. They clean them first. 🙂 More than spinach gets cleaned, obviously.

    1. Linda, he just thinks all girls are filthy 😉

    2. Ok, seriously, it is a lack of information that keeps people drinking ‘dead’ cow’s milk with nothing good left in it.

      OK, Linda, most of us here are pretty skeptical about claims unsupported by science such as the one you make. If you’re waiting for validation of this belief system here, I’m afraid it will be a long wait.

      However, even those of us who reject those claims support your right to buy and consume raw milk, provided that the product is accurately labelled as such.

      We get a lot of drive-in visitors who think that because we support one point of their agenda (generally, on grounds of individual freedom) that we buy in to their entire agenda.

  10. hmmph. Up until the mid-70s, Kansas allowed the sale of raw milk. We bought it from the local farmer for a dollar a gallon. If we timed our arrival right, we could get milk still warm from the cow.

  11. God forbid we use some actual fucking data to come up with our laws. Do we have any data on the raw milk selling states and how many people died from killer milk? I’m gonna guess no because if we did we would see we don’t need these outdated laws from the 30’s.

  12. Since I live on a farm, my solution was to buy my own Jersey cow and milk her myself. Best homemade ice cream ever and a sweet pet as well.

    1. ing when you’re all done with her…

      1. You are such a pig.

  13. All I want to know is, Where can I get my hands on some unpasteurized Stilton?

    1. You can get raw milk cheese. It just needs to be aged for over 2 months (could be wrong on the time, but something like that). But England might have different rules on that, precluding the much sought after raw milk Stilton, king of all cheeses.

  14. I grew up drinking raw milk on a farm in Iowa. We never had a problem in our family and I know we didn’t have anything close to the sanitary conditions most modern dairies have today. But… big but..we milked and drank within the same day and usually within a couple of hours and the small herd (10-20 cows) allowed us to closely observe the animals.

    I then worked in the third world and saw many, many problems with raw milk. The serious issue was tuberculosis and other nasty diseases. I was in areas where we couldn’t get pasteurized milk so I “pasteurized” it myself.

    Take away the regs and more people will die. Classic case of freedom vs. safety.

    I don’t have a good source now but I wouldn’t hesistate to drink raw milk from a good source but there’s no way that I’d drink raw milk from an unknown source.

    My own opinion: allow raw milk to be sold with a strong warning label on it.

  15. they are looking for ways to crack down on milk speakeasies.

    Piped in classical music, perhaps?

  16. I’m not in to the idea of trying unpasteurized milk, but since cheese is by definition rotten, moldy, fermented milk, as long as it passes the appearance and smell test I might give it a try.

  17. Moloko Plus!

  18. Regulators SHOULD be vexed… And sent home without severance pay.

    Any consumer can read the studies, view the statistics, and see that the more regulated our food has become, the less safe it is to consume.

    In the case of FRESH (“raw”) dairy, there is a more than 500-to-1 difference in recall rates. More than 500 cases of pasteurized, homogenized, commercialized dairy being recalled for salmonella and e-coli than in fresh milk. Go figure!!

    Now that the truth is starting to come forward that saturated fats are not your enemy, they will fall on those grounds, too.

    People – you are NOT stupid, but you have been lied to, and you have bought into the lies.

    Stop trusting the government to do a job that is your personal responsibility – and start learning about real food, real health and the real reason behind the political push to over-regulate everything from food to farts.

    WAIT till the truth comes out about cattle and methane – Soy – Cholesterol – and a host of other things that you can read about for yourselves RIGHT NOW.

    Go read the actual studies at JAMA, NEJM and Lancet – then come back and start writing to those legislators. Its not rocket science – they just want you to believe it is.

  19. My family owned a Guernsey cow back in the mid 60s. Dad, my brothers and I took turns milking the cow twice a day. Her daily yield was 7-10 gallons. Ours was not a high-tech dairy farm. We washed the cow’s udder off with a small amount of warm water and our hands, then proceeded to milk. The bucket of milk was poured through a paper filter into one-gallon glass jars, and the pale-yellow cream would collect near the tops of the jars. Most of those jars of raw milk were sold to neighbors. In the eight years we sold milk there were no health issues with it. Customers were referring their friends. They loved the cream that they could cook with. Raw milk was not dangerous. In fact my dad believed raw milk was essential for young immune systems.

    For crying out loud, that was 40 years ago under very elementary conditions. In 2010 I would certainly have no fear if someone were offering me unpasteurized milk.

    1. We do this now with 2 Jerseys and are the healthiest people we know!

      Milk is inherently safe when rumens are not over acidified and the milk is not adulterated as it was in the early 1900s around the big cities. Find out the facts and decide for yourselves. Don’t rely on government data or regulation.

  20. He too, loved his 2nd wife. She is a very considerate person, always patient and in fact is the merchant’s
    confidante. Whenever the merchant faced some problems,
    he always turned to his 2nd wife and she would always help him out and tide him through difficult times

  21. I like that saying, thanks!
    Thanks for posting this. Very nice recap of some of the key points in my talk. I hope you and your readers find it useful! Thanks again

  22. The word “raw” sounds like something exciting and maybe a little dangerous. It makes you think of bloody steaks and wrestlers and untanned hides.

  23. which limited the actions of Congress and by extension had to be incorporated, the Second Amendment stated that RKBA was not to be infringed, and lacked detail as to by whom, and therefore applied to all government. By its very language it was already applicable to the states!

  24. Dell Laptop Batteries
    tiffany and company store
    swiss replica watches
    nikeoutlet
    ugg factory outlet

  25. Dell Laptop Batteries
    tiffany and company store
    swiss replica watches
    nikeoutlet
    ugg factory outlet

  26. The word “raw” sounds like something exciting and maybe a little dangerous. It makes you think of bloody steaks and wrestlers and untanned hides.

  27. I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. thanks.

  28. “willing to take a small risk for better dairy”

    This baseless position is exactly the problem with the “raw milk rebel” groups. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that raw milk is in any way better than clean milk. These morons are fighting for the “right” to drink contaminated milk. The farmers are not being “persecuted” or “harrassed” as you say, they are being investigated and prosecuted by police and regulators who are trying to enforce laws that prohibit selling dangerous products for human consumption.

    If a “mercury-infused beef” theory becamse popular among some fringe group, would the government be the bad guys for trying to prevent farmers from adding mercury to their beef and selling it to gullible people with a deathwish? This is the biggest non-issue since the vaccine-autism crapola. It’s the fringie cause de jour, wonder what will be making the rounds next week? I like the mercury-infused beef idea, if it gets popular I want my cut of the profits. I bet people would pay extra for it. They do for the raw milk, so why not?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.